Commentary

Tesla Stops Some Negative PR With Software Update To Braking System

Consumer Reports yesterday recommended the Tesla 3 after the automaker used a software update to fix a shortcoming in its brake system to improve the car’s stopping distance by nearly 20 feet. In the process, it effectively reverse-engineered all the bad publicity that ensued after the magazine’s first review that denied it a recommendation. And to add a cherry, Elon Musk, who has been a sourpuss about critical press coverage recently, made nice with the Yonkers, N.Y.-based testing operation.

“Really appreciate the high-quality critical feedback from @ConsumerReports. Road noise & ride comfort already addressed too. UI improvements coming via remote software update later this month,” he tweeted.

“The history between Tesla and CR is as long as it is checkered. The publication has often praised the car company’s innovation, but has also not shied away from criticizing its shortcomings, with each decision generating headlines,” observes Sean O’Kane for The Verge. “CR pulled its recommendation of the Model S in 2015 over reliability concerns, even after it had ‘broken’ its own ratings system to give the all-electric sedan a score of 103 out of 100. CR later returned to recommending the Model S, but it has also been critical of the Model X SUV for similar reliability concerns.”

“The lack of a recommendation from Consumer Reports would have threatened Tesla chief executive Elon Musk’s effort to bring electric cars to more mainstream customers,” writes Tim Higgins for the Wall Street Journal.

The magazine’s cachet as an influential and impartial arbiter not only lends it authority with consumers but also with automakers.

“It’s not uncommon for manufacturers to make fixes after receiving bad reviews, the head of automobile testing at Consumer Reports, Jake Fisher, told the [Los Angeles] Times.” What’s groundbreaking, Fisher said, is the way the brake problem was remedied: through Tesla’s over-the-air software update system,” writes the LAT’s Russ Mitchell.

“Tesla recalibrated the brakes by remote control, streaming data to Model 3 computers in a manner roughly analogous to the way Spotify streams songs to a smartphone,” Mitchell continues.

“We very often find deficiencies in vehicles,” Fisher told Mitchell. “What’s unique is how quickly they’re able to react.”

“Car techies also say this is a notable automotive accomplishment. ‘It is impressive,’ says Oren Betzaleli, vice president of the automotive electronics company Harman, which produces software that supports over-the-air updates for nearly 20 automakers and suppliers. Before Tesla, over-the-air updates had been limited mostly to infotainment systems and map products — fun, but far from lifesaving add-ons,” writes Aarian Marshall for Wired.

And analysts were positive, too. 

“Tesla’s ability to improve its cars with over-the-air updates ‘is unique, and highlights the company’s leadership position,’ Ben Kallo, an analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co., said in a note to clients. He rates the stock a buy,” writes Dana Hull for Bloomberg.

Then there’s the tiff with the press.

“Mr. Musk himself came in for criticism after he issued a series of recent Twitter posts complaining about negative media coverage of Tesla and attacking the ‘holier than thou’ media. Journalists who write critical stories about the company, he suggested, do so because they seek page views and because established carmakers ‘are among the world’s biggest advertisers,’” Neal E. Boudette reminds us in the New York Times.

“Earlier in May, during a conference call to discuss Tesla’s first-quarter earnings, Mr. Musk abruptly cut off questioning by financial analysts, saying, ‘Boring, bonehead questions are not cool.’”

But even as he had kind words for CR yesterday, the CEO apparently is still feeling aggrieved by other coverage elsewhere.

“Musk’s rants took a turn for the weirder on Wednesday,” reports Josie Rhodes Cook for Inverse. “Adrienne LaFrance, an editor at The Atlantic, posted a tweet that included a 1997 bio of Musk on the Zip2 website, possibly because of Zip2’s work with newspapers and the media in the past in providing online city guide software. Apparently, Musk was none too pleased by this development.”

Musk tweeted back — but quickly deleted — the following: “My first Internet company had Hearst, Knight Ridder & NY Times as investors & customers. Spent years in newsrooms starting 23 years ago, back when some reporters were still babies w poopy diapers, but hey def lecture me on what a newsroom is like ….”

Ah, we remember 23 years ago more with the whiff of nostalgia. Global Network Navigator’s Whole Internet Catalog guided us to other websites, Yahoo was our homepage in the pre-Google era, the Faucet Outlet Online Catalog was a pioneer in World Wide Web e-commerce and folks still bought their diapers at thriving Kmarts. 

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